SALVADOR DALÍ (Spanish) (1904 – 1989)
At Art School in Madrid the most notorious of all the surrealists displayed a precocious dexterity in his studies. He had a genuine gift for the manipulation of imagery and when he went to Paris in 1928 and Míro presented him to the surrealists he quietly established himself as the dazzling newcomer from whom everything could be expected. As a student he was influenced by Freud, which made him interpret not only his dreams but everything that happened to him. He took surrealism still further to simulate a form of ‘reasoning madness’ by which he could explore hidden meanings behind its common place appearances. In the ‘Persistence of Memory’ (1931) the idea of melting watches occurred to him when he was eating ripe Camembert cheese. Many have seen in it a fear of impotence. (Whatever may be the interpretation the inescapable fact is that its jewel-like finish and extraordinary draftmanship reminds one of great Italian masters. Dalí himself was a great admirer of Da Vinci.) Just as he was quick to be identified with the surrealism he dissociated from it in 1938. He had turned to classicism discribing his change of direction as a ‘religious Renaissance based on a progressive Catholicism’. Equally fluent in words as in paintings Dalí contributed much to his popular image as a personality – as well as an artist – of considerable controversy. As André Breton put it, the time came when Dalí could not tell the sound of his own voice from the creak of his patent-leather shoes.
In retro: He was the only artist who could understand Theory of Relativity, in all probability more than Einstein himself. Einstein of course wasn’t an artist. This Spaniard was a genius. A genius these days has to sell himself as a product. As in the case of Salvador he played a mountebank, a clown with his waxed moustache, patent leather shoes and toadies. This is what is called dillyDalíing.
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After the groundbreaking, experimental work of Un Chien Andalou (1928) Buñuel and Dali were expressly commissioned by Marie-Laurie and Charles de Noailles to provide a follow-up. The first was a surrealistic poem, where images in place of words loaded with symbolism. If Un Chien Andalou was the untrammeled folly of two creative minds whose youth was their licence, L’Age D’Or was the laying of ground rules for the kind of film-making Buñuel would do in his long career. He cut his teeth on Surrealism and all his movies beginning with this set out to examine the social mores,- moribund and nascent attitudes of a society in flux, with the eye of a satirist. After its initial screening it was banned in Spain and also in France. In Un Chien Andalou film operated more as subconscious mind given expression: it is chaos, unrelated to the conscious mind or will. ‘Surrealism ‘as rape of the conscious mind.’ Surrealism strictly speaking does not espouse a visual image as watching a beautiful sunset that puts reverence of God in the viewer’s mind; nor is it a shot of watch, placed in a succession of images to celebrate the union of technology and art. In short surrealism places the stolid virtue of visual images as we perceive them in our mind, cultivated by culture or art, on its head. (note: A Chinese may examine both the background and foreground in a painting with equal care while a Western mind shows more attention to detail in the foreground. Culture helps in understanding a work of art.) Visual ‘imagery’ in L’Age D’Or is to be understood in that context. If In a clear-cut narrative of a man and a woman being continuously thwarted in their attempts to make love by interruptions what significance can a man walking through a park with a loaf of bread on his head hold? ( Remember the nimbus that always is foisted on the icon of a saint in Catholic churches? His saintliness radiates heavenly light, so it would indicate. A loaf of bread he could provide to his worshipers would be more practical and to the point. Would it not?’)
Man’s basic right to think or speak in the 30s was being curtailed by the fascist and totalitarian regimes in Spain, Italy, USSR and elsewhere. If the conscious life is repressed how our subconscious cope with it may lie in travesty of sense. Nonsense rhymes of Lear or Lewis Carroll tale are a case in point. If Alice has the misfortune to follow a rabbit through the hole she should not consider a Cheshire cat grinning as out of place. L’Age D’Or is sexed up but not pornograhic to titillate. The erotic aspects merely make the satire most ludicrous as in the scene where ragged children lap up the throes of the amorous couple, a man (Gaston Modot) and a girl (Lya Lys) rolling around in the mud. They are first spotted by the children. As soon as the crowd (the crowd of on-lookers is organized in accordance with the established social hierarchy.) frown on the indecency of it, children also quickly join in the general condemnation. The lower order if it will suit them, is all for propriety and morality of the bourgeoisie. The man (Gaston Modot) in his anger could crush a beetle, or kick a poodle out of the way. Beggars fare no better. In Buñuel’s vitriolic view of society it is such sort of a cad that is deputed as “Ambassador of Good Will.” L’Age d’Or is one of the cinema’s great “shock” films. At the time, it was accompanied by a manifesto.
The Story is episodic in form. The opening segment has a title card explaining the image. A poisonous scorpion is“not at all sociable, it ejects the intruder who comes to disturb its solitude.” Then the creature sets out to dine on a large rat. The next segment follows some hours afterwards when four bishops are shown deep in prayers. For a place in the sun we toil from sunup till sundown. But the well-fed prelates who make a show of their devotion as we see them rot away under the blazing Spanish Sun. Next segment develops the theme of Imperial Rome. A group of armed peasants gravitate towards the cliffs that line the rocky shoreline to resist the arrival of invading Mojorcans, but the peasants collapse in exhaustion along the way. The peasants are too weak to be of any threat to the invaders who come by ancient ships,-the invaders are however dressed nattily in modern dress. The Mojorcan dignitaries disembark uncontested, and launch a ceremony to mark the founding of a new city – Imperial Rome. The Church, the middle class and the lower class are all under attack by Buñuel. In his eyes they are all busybodies who keep butting in while the man and the daughter of the Marquis merely want to satisfy their lust. A hilarious scene is where two drunken oafs on a rickety horse and cart pass through the lounge room where an upper-class party is taking place. We will see it repeated in Viridiana where the beggar’s drunken orgy is a savage spoof on Da Vinci’s last supper. The film concludes with a segment derived from the novel The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Portrayal of an orgy and making the ringleader very much like the Christ figure was shocking. Perhaps Buñuel wished to poke fun at the sham reverence for a Jesus (whose features and build as painted by El Greco or Michalangelo are different) that is arbitrarily made a sacred image, the preserve of the Church from the pale of criticism. How closer to truth is the image of Jesus as promoted by the Church?) The film concludes with a cross as controversial as anything else in his arsenal of ridiculing the Roman Church. Tufts of hair (possibly beards or pubic patches) are nailed to it. Even to the modern movie goers L’Age D’Or seems fresh and shocking as ever. (ack: senses of cinema- Bill Mousoulis, epinions-metalluk)
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